Wednesday, May 30, 2012

War Hero: Army Navy Burger + Burrito

Army Navy sounds more like that burger place where greasy meats make up most of the menu, if not all of it. I’d imagined a mess hall, tin plates and an abundance of grit—all of which do not make it to my dining requirements.

Good thing the word “burrito” bungeed out of nowhere and finally, finally, Army Navy began to sound like victory, or booty, since we’re getting thematic. Soldier or not, it doesn’t matter whether you can recite Alpha to Zulu in one breath, the "barracks" welcomes anyone who pleasures to dine at the premises, from MacArthur to Captain Hook.

With interestingly named food items like Freedom Fries and Querida Mia, don’t feel idiotic if you find yourself gawking at the menu for the first time. No one will penalize you with push-ups for taking the time, but if you do, don’t expect the person next in line to be a Jolly Jack. And do make sure he isn’t armed with anything that starts with a capital M.

Reading the menu can be quite an entertaining pursuit with its ingeniously crafted offerings. Gathering intel on the food was easy, but deciding what to order was difficult, as my shipwrecked alter ego suddenly kicked in and I found myself wanting to have a quesadilla, quesadilla frito and soft taco for dinner. Slow down, soldier, the pocket has limits.

Not that I was headed to a Death March or any march for that matter, but my wallet just waved the white flag, so better sensibility led me to a decently quantified and well budgeted meal. I will reserve the splurge once I’ve found a war greater than Pearl Harbor or the CJ Case, but until then, it’s 1 quesadilla or the mission is aborted.

[caption id="attachment_1876" align="aligncenter" width="614"] Dining in the Dark: Chicken Quesadilla[/caption]

While there’s steak and cheese, of course I ended up with the Chicken Quesadilla paired with Tortilla chips and cheese dip. No combos or meals here, the three items were separately ordered and priced, and there, I have established my kill zone. Maybe it was the Tagaytay* weather, but I found the chips lacking in that crisp factor, which led me to dunk them all in the cheese dip. That dip had the viscosity 10x of the regular cheese dip (or gravy) and with the satisfactory hint of jalapeno, made my little splurge all worth it. The dip seemed to go well with the quesadilla too, seeing that its accompanying salsa and sour cream came in wee amounts that only Oliver Twist would find acceptable.

All I can remember about the Chicken Quesadilla was that it had chicken, cheese and onions, and in the dark, these were all that mattered. The flavor was light yet near Mexican festive, and the chips certainly brought more entertainment in my otherwise texture-free meal. Somewhere towards the mid-section though it got a bit too greasy, like diner-mess hall greasy, which really made quite a mess of my meal. This was one of those instances that I felt glad to be eating in the dark, but still, being the chronic OC, it’s best to ask for utensils the next time around. I suppose boodle fight isn’t really my “thang.”

 The Freedom Fries were crisp and Cajun inspired, and not the chunky wedges that the lazy chef or KFC would serve. Why “freedom”, I have not figured out, but those little strips are certainly not free from oil, fat and flavor—which should bring a smile to a military brat, or any brat for that matter. The onion rings (Sorry no photo) came in a bit of a sad serving; there were perhaps less than 10 rings per order, equivalent to  ¼ of an onion and one heck of a teary-eyed chef.

[caption id="attachment_1875" align="aligncenter" width="614"] The Dinner Platoon[/caption]

The Starving Sailor is sure to end anyone’s path to hunger with its sourdough bread charged with chicken and caramelized onions. Anyone hungry is sure to drop his anchor at the sight of this leviathan serving. The bread was fresh and chewy and was superb with the chicken with caramelized onions.  Again, the grease fest manifested itself at the expense of OC fingers. Still the onions made up for the flavor and thank God what lacked in the onion rings rained all over this magnificent sub.

In terms of flavor and freshness, there’s nothing AWOL in Army Navy. If any, it’s one heck of a booyah place for the hungry, shipwrecked and stranded in traffic. What’s fantastic is that it doesn’t limit its fares to the usual burgers and American cuisine, as it goes all the way and offers Mexican loot for those looking for that spicy punch.

I give 21 Gun Salutes to Army Navy, and remember, this information isn’t classified.

At ease, soldier.

* We dined at the Tagaytay Branch, which is beside Yellow Cab along the highway. This particular branch offers an outdoor experience with benches and trees, the works—which explains the dark, the cold weather and the fresh air. In case you’re wondering, I was not eating in the dark and neither is it my strange habit to eat in the dark. That’s just plain, weird.


Monday, May 28, 2012

Sister Act: Ice Cream Sandwiches

When up in the mountains (or is it hills?) of summer haven Tagaytay, the last thing in anyone's hunger fantasy would perhaps be ice cream. A cup of hot chocolate or ramen is more like it, better suited for the fine weather and chilly nights, for card games, family bonding and that imaginary fire place we wish we had.

But no, in the tradition of truancy, it was a call for the challenge of the cold and survival of the hungry. Summer or chilly, this called for ice cream, or rather, the ice cream called out to us.

I will explain why this temptation was permitted; these little sinister ice cream sandwiches, well, the nuns made them. Sinful and cold-causing as they may seem in the cold weather, they happen to be the creation of the kind-hearted nuns of the Little Souls Church in Tagaytay.

[caption id="attachment_1867" align="aligncenter" width="614"] Neapolitan Ice Cream Sandwich[/caption]

Now before you get into any ideas of sainthood, let it be known that the ice cream sandwiches are not holy, blessed or will grant instant beatification to whomever ingests it. Do not hoard these angelic wafers for the hope of spiritual salvation. If you should hoard them, it should be for charity (I would assume that a portion of its P50 price would go to the church’s cause) and indulgence (delightful desserts they make).

Available in a vast array of flavors from the common (chocolate, avocado, strawberry) to gourmet preferences (blueberry, French vanilla and Neapolitan), the ice cream sandwich is covered with a thin vanilla wafer that blends well with its thick and generously spread ice cream filling. The debate on the ice cream brand raged on till dinner as proponents of Arce believed it as such, but Magnolia was likewise proposed on account of the flavor. Definitely not gelato, in case you decide to join in the chilly discussion.

While the actual ingredients will remain a mystery, it brings us joy to have discovered this cheap and “selfless” treat. One may argue that eating more than one serving cannot be deemed as gluttony but is in fact charity, and I couldn’t agree more. Eat more; share your blessings. Burp.

The Little Souls Church canteen also sells ice candy which my niece swears is fabulous (she had 2) and a mango float dessert that we never had the chance to sample. Next time perhaps.

[caption id="attachment_1868" align="aligncenter" width="578"] Beat the Chill with Mochiko[/caption]

Aside from this blessed treat, mochi-filled ice cream Mochiko seems to be quite a common sight in Tagaytay. With more branches in the south than in my own urban hood, this surely makes Tagaytay the salvation for summer.

Veering away from my favorite Green Tea, I went for the Yogurt with Strawberries in an effort to be "healthy" but this fruity faux pas made me miss out on my tea-rrific treat. Lesson learned.



Saturday, May 19, 2012

Mr. Bright-Side: The Amazing Ace Bright

Finally got to use a song title (by The Killers) in an article, and aptly used, if I may say so. The Mr. Bright-Side we refer to is Ace Bright, otherwise known as the Azkals Coordinator, for those who are clueless with the state of Philippine football.

Ace also goes by many other names, addressed in the article Mr. Bright-Side: The Amazing Ace Bright which should be an interesting read with all those photos and stories that are so amazing, we'd think they happen only in the movies. But heck no, this is the Amazing Ace's real life.

Swamping us with stories that made me forget dinner (unbelievable, huh), Ace is certainly great as he is evil (in his own words). Makes me kinda glad that one of those Azkals Sports Bar sandwiches was named after him, since he definitely deserves such tribute in fine menu print.

Now that made me hungry.

Read and rave about Ace in Mr. Bright-Side: The Amazing Ace Bright. First posted in the Azkals website, of course.

J. Anne

Monday, May 14, 2012

Swinging by the Mango Tree

If you suddenly find yourself dining at Mango Tree (Bonifacio High Street), well for starters, try not to look for a mango tree or any form of horticulture in the premises. An inquiry on mango-laden dishes may be considered an act of curiosity, but don’t expect the menu to be doused with mango-fused dishes. Or expect mango juice to be free-flowing. That’s what we would call stereotyping and a lack of creativity on your part.

Instead, find not a tribal-island place but rather, an uppity-up Thai fine dining spot that basks in the elegance of its chandeliers and high ceilings and steers clear of banana leaves. Despite the fancy atmosphere, there is still a subtle hint of Thai homey-ness that perhaps is fitting when reading a menu filled with lengthy Thai jargon, dominated by Kaeng, Phad and Tom. Sounds like my childhood friends – how I wish they were - but they translate to Curry, Fried, and Soup respectively.

Dimly lit and with a slightly vermillion theme, there is no house mango-anything; however they offer their splendid Thai Iced Tea, which is not for free but is tasty enough to compete with the Taiwanese milk teas. If I am not mistaken, their secret ingredient is condensed milk. And lots of ice.

The food came in a blur, with servings good enough for 2 hungry or 3 skinny people. With the dim atmosphere and the hasty movements of the hungry, pardon the photos and the blur. This thing we call hunger can seriously cause ADD.

The Yum Woon Sen came with glass noodles that shimmered a mile away, and this posed as a potential salad favorite. The unusually salty-sour-spicy dressing was greatly new to my palate, yet well met. However the same fate cannot be said to my fellow diners – which left more for me. (Yay!)

[caption id="attachment_1812" align="aligncenter" width="614"] Sauce, not Soup[/caption]

The deep fried catfish (Yom Pla Duk Fu) was served with a green mango salad-sauce that we first thought was a cup of soup. Come on, in the dark, the mango slivers looked like noodles and when placed in a soup bowl, just screamed, “Taste me!” not, “I’m the catfish dip.” The unlucky taster was not pleased by her tingling senses, but did enjoy the catfish greatly. Meat eaters might perhaps compare this to the local fare chicharon, but I prefer to describe it as the crunchy fish almost-floss.

The spring rolls (regular and shrimp) were a feast for the eyes but came in only 5 pieces per order. Groups dining who are not a multiple of 5 will have to split, share or abstain. In our case, it was “the faster fork wins.” Filled with glass noodles and vegetables, it was crunchy, delectable and a bit on the oily side. The sweet and sour sauce that came with the rolls is an absolute necessity, since the dish on its own is bland, on account of the noodle component.

A trip to a Thai restaurant is never complete without an order of Phad Thai. Our Phad Thai Goong was enclosed in an egg-net that was so lovely to look at, I couldn’t bear to ruin the design with the fork. But eat was the main order of the evening, and I had the privilege of bringing forth destruction of the fortress and getting the first fork. The rice noodles were on the thin side but the taste was an explosion of sour, salty and spicy. With eggs, bean sprouts, peanuts and shrimps swimming around the dish, it was an excellent conquest.

The grilled quid (Pla Meuk Kang) was mildly sweet yet very tender. Grilling squid can be a tricky business, so this successful attempt at serving a tender dish with no hints of the biter grill taste was very much appreciated. In no time, there was even no sign that Kraken had graced the table.

This grilled chicken was so typical and straightforward that I forgot its menu name. Seriously though, if could give it an English name, it would be: Golden Grilled Chicken. As for the flavor, we’re probably better off discovering more traditional Thai recipes in the next visit. Like satay, curry or mango chutney.

It was among the desserts where we found the abundance of mangoes, which led me to think that perhaps there is a mango tree somewhere in this restaurant.

The Mango Cheesecake was a refreshingly sweet change from the spiced up dinner. The cheesecake was on the light and frothy side, but the mangoes proved to the winner. Undeniably sweet and succulent, this is why mango is my favorite fruit! Delightful!

The sticky rice, which looks a lot like biko, is actually Khao Niew Ma Muang. It is so difficult to pronounce and remember with so many syllables that seek to confuse, the waitress must be so used to people referring to it as biko as well. Of course she couldn’t go around spreading the word and calling it such, but for patrons of local rice cakes, this one’s for you.

As for me, my mind already shut down after the Mango Cheesecake.

While not for the faint-hearted, spice-averse and those who simply detest lemongrass and curry, Mango Tree may not be the best destination. You might find yourself reaching out for a Mango Ago-go at neaby Jamba Juice instead.

However if you’re very much into the adventurous and exotic Thai fare-fest, then dig in and find a spot in Mango Tree. I assure you, your palate will be very pleased.

As for the wallet, that’s a different story.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

S&R Splurge

If there's one thing we don't do at S&R, it's shop. Well yeah, we buy chips and drinks once in a while, but if the S&R guys were to carefully plot our visits and purchases, they would find the strangest consumer item of preference: Pizza.

While we've been celebrating pizza nights at S&R for ages, which is highly possible with cheese, combo, pepperoni, shrimp and the seasonal barbecue chicken as rotating flavors, there is no such thing as getting "sick" of the place. With calzone and fries in the roster, it's a place we might as well call our second home.

The cheese pizza on its own is screaming with golden cheesy sheen while the garlic and shrimp is seafood splendor that escalates it to my "craving" level.

Innovation is highly encouraged for those who want a poutine-inspired masterpiece. Fries on pizza, why not? I'm not as adventurous, and would just prefer to smother my slice with mustard and onions (which does not make a pretty photo, I tell you).

[caption id="attachment_1834" align="aligncenter" width="512"] Someone's hungry: Fries-topped Pizza[/caption]

I've skipped the burgers and hotdogs phase, being an all-year Lenten diner, but with churros, fries and chicken rolls on the list, the place is becoming a better-than-fastfood joint. Heck, they've even got a sandwich bar and ice cream station (It's Blue Bunny, so beat that) which recently added shakes and pastries on the chiller. Fabulous.

[caption id="attachment_1833" align="aligncenter" width="614"] Shrimp Salad with onions on the side[/caption]

What makes me doubly pleased is the addition of salad in their menu. While the Chicken Caesar Salad was a giant bowl of veggie delight (all great, except for the dressing), the Shrimp Salad was absolute enjoyment. A bit smaller in serving with about 6-8 shrimps, the salad is gratifying and amazingly improved by that wee slice of lemon. Refreshing, light and certainly agreeable even to the anti-vegetables, it makes a great siding to the hungry and a perfect meal to those like me - who consider dessert as part of the meal!

Dessert time meant visiting the actual store and raiding the chiller for something to-go worthy. 

[caption id="attachment_1836" align="aligncenter" width="461"] Move over, Blue Bunny. Make way for Mudslide.[/caption]

The choice was terrific: Tillamook Mudslide. Chunky chocolate swirls circled creamy chocolate ice cream. Forget EQ; despite its partially melted state, my mind urged me to dig in, and I did. No manners, no civilized utensils. All was forgiven in the presence of this dandy dessert.

[caption id="attachment_1835" align="aligncenter" width="461"] Better start calling it (melted) Chocolate Fudge Ripple.[/caption]

While it wasn't a 100% mudslide, as I was looking for a hint of coffee, it was a perfect fudgy treat. More of a Chocolate Fudge Ripple. Now that's more like it.

Next time we ought to try its Vanilla Flavor, unless S&R decides to re-stock on Klondike.

If that's the case, bring out the coin.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

An "F" Lunch

When I said,  "I had lunch at that F place" I was being honest, solemn and definitely not vulgar. That "F" place happens to be the restaurant at the hotel with such a lengthy name, it makes anyone's most customized Starbucks drink sound monosyllabic.

Get ready because it's quite a mouthful: Best Western Premier F1 Hotel. I'd prefer my self-made nickname: F1 Hotel. However if you imagine a racing-inspired accommodation and theme, then you'll have to go to Toyz for that. F1 Hotel is classy, sleek and very silver/gray-oriented. There are no cars, just quite a collection of mirrors lining the walls.

As for F, the restaurant, it was enclosed with glass, giving a fantastic view of Taguig. As a downside to this glorious location, the summer sun was not very forgiving to lunchtime diners. Good thing I was part of the late lunch crowd. Dining at near closing time (2pm), something as irrelevant as sunshine can be waived for other more pertinent matters such as cheese and ice cream. With fewer people to contend with!

The lunch buffet offers the usual cuisine selection that people have gotten quite used to: Japanese, Chinese, a bit of Indian and American. Nothing fancy as Greek or Mexican, but with my limited time, I was glad that I need not face indecision at such a crucial moment.

[caption id="attachment_1806" align="aligncenter" width="614"] Salmon & Salmon Salad[/caption]

The salad bar was nothing grand and extensive, just the usual dressing and toppings. On the side were various cold cuts, sushi and sashimi that were plentiful enough to appease the hungry crowd. As for me, salmon sashimi and smoked salmon topped my salad - weird, I know - but was engaging enough for me. Perhaps with the lack of interesting toppings, the salmon came in particularly tempting.

The main course section was a line of viands, soups, pasta, shabu-shabu and seafood selections. Spotting the cheese board at the start of the line, I couldn't help but get a sample of each, thus reducing plate space for the main course. My bad. But it was so good, topped on my already existing salad, so not bad at all.

The vegetables were the first to grace my plate, then came the fish with raita sauce and that cajun chicken. The waiter-cook swore to that chicken's spiciness which I looked forward to with a glass full of water, only to find out that it was mediocre hot in my spice scale. The fish was tender and succulent, but I found the sauce a tad too sweet for my taste. Too early for dessert. Hence the fish dove into my salad. Fabulous catch.

[caption id="attachment_1799" align="aligncenter" width="614"] Pesto with Mushrooms[/caption]

My customized pesto came in a wee serving but tasted absolutely fresh and cheesy. The carbonara looked just as appetizing - a bit on the creamy side but with all that cheese - worth it!

Roasted potatoes, tempura, dumplings and bagnet graced the plates of my companions. I would be forever sorry for not having taken photos, but with the way everyone was rushing, people might just end up eating my camera in haste, or something to that disastrous effect.

The dessert section was a glorious lair of fondue, fruit, cakes, pastries, crepes and ice cream. For once, I was astounded and could not determine what to select. Strange as it was, I decided to forego ice-cream for the first time in my life. A traitor to ice cream, I will make it up next weekend.

[caption id="attachment_1804" align="aligncenter" width="614"] The Crepe that Launched a Thousand Burps[/caption]

The crepe station had fruits, a host of awesome toppings and ice cream to boot. This crepe was not mine but was such a delight to stare at and take a photo of. As for the rainbow sprinkles, good luck to the lucky diner who finished this off.

[caption id="attachment_1801" align="aligncenter" width="614"] The Chocolate Crew with the Lone Creme Brulee[/caption]

My dessert platter was painstakingly chosen from a chiller containing at least 10 other cakes. I decided to stick to the chocolate inspired theme. The brownie was the best bet, ultra moist and mixed in with a bit of walnut. If I was not that full, I'd have gotten more of that brownie and topped it with vanilla ice cream. The chocolate cake had a layer of chocolate icing and another of hazelnut - perfect with coffee. The creme brulee was fantastic for those who refused to indulge in a totally sweet dessert but wanted a decently sweet treat. A second favorite next to the brownie.

Aside from buffet, the hotel also offers conferences and the like. Here's what they served our guests. The thickly sliced bread was quite a sight, I'd forever wonder how they finished their sandwiches while trying to be all prim and proper.

Of course I had none of those sandwiches. I was still too full from lunch - and just managed to drown myself with chamomile tea.

It can't get any more "F" than that.